NEW ORLEANS — The typical user conference often involves customers learning more from each other than from the vendor's high-level best-practice sessions. Customers at Microsoft Convergence here last week were no different. One attendee recalled a fellow customer accurately capturing in one statement the general sentiment engendered by the proximity of so other users: "She said, ‘I just don't feel so alone.' " As always, the promise of technology is designed to generate excitement and enthusiasm, but the customers in New Orleans seemed ready for the next level -- they wanted to know how to put the solutions to work.
"We've moved into a phase where we want to know how people are using [CRM]," says R. "Ray" Wang, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. It's a good thing, then, that Brad Wilson, general manager of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, is aware of this trend. More than sessions about scalability, integration, or product features, customers now want to see others like them talking about their success stories. "We don't sell products anymore," Wilson says. "We sell case studies."
With regard to customers of its Dynamics CRM product, Wilson says Microsoft is in "heavy acquisition mode." Signing thousands of customers on an annual basis, the company is actively tackling a fragmented market, one that, not surprisingly, Wilson believes Microsoft is well-positioned to dominate in the future.
Wang says that many Convergence attendees were interested in making purchases, either to begin new CRM initiatives or enhance existing ones. Microsoft, perhaps looking to capitalize on both the economic vibe and the pent-up demand, announced discounts for conference attendees:
- 75 percent off Microsoft CRM Online: $9.99 per month for as many as 20 users for up to six months; and
- 20 percent off for enterprise resource planning customers on Microsoft Dynamics AX, GP, NAV, and SL.
Microsoft sells $60 billion in software on an annual basis, according to Wilson -- most of it to existing customers, forcing the company to continue investing in retention activities and new value propositions.
Technology, of course, shouldn't be underestimated. In one of the week's final keynotes, Kevin Schofield, general manager of Microsoft Research, introduced some very interesting, more futuristic applications the company has cooking in research and development. The goal of Microsoft Research, Schofield told the audience, is threefold:
- advance the state of the art;
- improve Microsoft products; and
- ensure the longevity of Microsoft products.
Schofield's presentation described a world of technology that, to the mainstream population, likely seemed a fantasy -- so much so, in fact, that a few skeptical laughs could be heard emanating from the audience.
"It's the future," Wang says. "You have to have hope -- it might not be where you get to today." Companies are still struggling with migrations out of rudimentary spreadsheets -- interactive, touch-screen presentations seem like the stuff of science fiction.
Neverthless, Schofield assured the audience that the type of technology he was describing wasn't so far away. Much of it is already in the making and will be the foundation upon which companies can be the "dynamic business" that Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president of Microsoft Business Solutions, spoke of in an earlier Convergence keynote. Microsoft's responsibility, Schofield emphasized, will be to apply the same principles it has for all its products -- creating software that's familiar and simple, whether you're at the office, in the living room, or at the kitchen counter. "We're reimagining business productivity for the next generation," Schofield said.
The business equation has always been the same:
Profit = Revenue - Cost.
The meaning of each of the variables, however, has changed. Cost is now a reflection of how efficient and productive your business is. Revenue, Schofield said, is how you relate to your customer and how the customer sees you.
Fifty years ago, Wilson says, companies cared more about their fiscal plans, property, and tools. Twenty years ago, it was all about the employee. It wasn't until the last decade that companies really began paying attention to the customer. "People figured out," Wilson says, "that if your customer bolts, 'Game Over' -- you're done."
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